Many athletes suffer concussions during their careers. Either large single blows in competition, or many smaller ones during practice sessions. We know that both heavy hits and large numbers of smaller hits, can both cause damage to the brain tissue which will last for a lifetime.
Experts suggest that too many former athletes go incorrectly diagnosed with depression as a side effect simply from concussion when in fact there are many other factors leading to the depression. Athletes pose an interesting challenge for clinicians because often their mental problems are due to several factors. They have some side effects of concussion, but often they also feel purposeless after a lifetime focussed on the singular task of perfecting their performance and losing their athlete identity once they retire.
Chronic pain, medication use, identity crisis, along with concussion can all create a perfect storm for a lifelong struggle with mental illness. In fact, Dr. Michael Gaetz of University of Fraser Valley suggests that even the side effects of the many substances used to manage pain, sleep and steroid use are all linked to the symptoms of mental illness faced by athletes even before they retire.
He argues that up until now there hasn’t been much attention paid by medical experts to the ‘entire’ picture of what is causing high rates of mental illness in professional and amateur athletes when they retire. The loss of their strong athletic identity, the loss of purpose, the sudden freedom from strict diet and training regimes, the loss of focus on the ‘win’ and the competition, can all play into deepening a crisis that looms anyway upon retirement.
Dr. Gaetz believes that their must be a focus placed on young athletes for post retirement from their sport. He also believes that more health care professionals need to be examining the entire picture of athletes in crisis. How are the concussions, medications, post retirement crisis, and other life factors working together to hurt the athlete, and how can those factors be mitigated during their competitive career and post career.
You can find more information on Dr. Gaetz here, and links to his work as well. You can find other information about concussions in sport, and their treatment here.